TV Upfronts: CBS Brass Talk Colbert, 'Good Wife' Future and Its Packed Midseason

Leslie Moonves - H 2014
AP Images

Leslie Moonves - H 2014

"We have more 18-49 shows in top 30 than ABC and NBC, so the idea of the old fogie network should be put away forever," says Moonves.

CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves opened his annual eggs-and-bacon upfront press breakfast Wednesday morning by rebutting the “old” moniker. It's a ritual of upfront season, and as always, Moonves and his executives, including entertainment chairman Nina Tassler and chief scheduler Kelly Kahl, had plenty of data at the ready.

"We have more 18-49 shows in top 30 than ABC and NBC, so the idea of the old fogie network should be put away forever," said Moonves, referring to cracks made by some of his competitors earlier in the week. "I'll talk to [Jimmy] Kimmel about that later."

CBS will end the current season as the most-watched network for the seventh consecutive season and the 12th time in 13 years. And top-rated NBC — which had the Super Bowl this year — is averaging only 122,000 adults 18-49 ahead of CBS. And, as Moonves pointed out, that's less than the population of Patterson, New Jersey. Without the Super Bowl, CBS is easily No. 1. Added Moonves, “guess who has the Super Bowl next year?”

As for those older viewers, which CBS does have, Kahl asserted that the 25-54 demographic is just as valuable as 18-49. “Billions of dollars are spent on 25-54,” he said. “We're not old, we're actually pretty dominant... no matter who's claiming to be No. 1 this week, we have the strongest schedule.” (Note: NBC and ABC both have made that claim, with ABC extrapolating their win by stripping out sports and claiming to be the No. 1 “entertainment network” in 18-49.)

Another myth Moonves would like to dispense with: “CBS has an aging schedule.” The network has renewed five freshman shows including The Odd Couple and Madam Secretary, though veteran procedural CSI will end its run in September. In fact, there are so many new series on the schedule this fall that the network is now holding many returning series (2 Broke Girls, Person of Interest) and some of its buzzy freshman (Rush Hour) for later in the calendar. (The word midseason is still dead at CBS, as Tassler was quick to remind everyone in attendance.)

On top of its demo boasting, here are five highlights of the trio's half-hour meeting.

1. Colbert is Coming
Noting that all at CBS were feeling bittersweet about next week's swan song to David Letterman, Tassler confirmed that replacement Stephen Colbert would be making an appearance at the afternoon presentation at Carnegie Hall. Network sales president Jo Ann Ross said that his first meetings with buyers have already taken place and gone well. "He had grown that crazy beard, and people had no idea who he was until he started speaking," she said. "He is going to be advertiser-friendly, but it's going to be in his own voice."

2. No Finales Planned for The Good Wife or Person of Interest ... Yet
CBS will hold Person of Interest for midseason, where it's likely to fill a hole when a new drama falls out. Tassler noted that they have yet to decide on an episode count for what will be the show's fifth season or if it will in fact be the show's swan song season. “All of that is being discussed now,” said Tassler. “We don't know whether or not that will be the end or not, but if it is, we'll have a great ending.” Tassler also would not confirm that the upcoming season of The Good Wife — returning Sundays this fall with a full season order — would be the last, as many reports have speculated. The show has been a prestige project for CBS, which has not traditionally drawn critical raves. And Tassler noted that as long as series creators Michelle and Robert King have the desire to continue, the show would stay on the schedule. “We love having that show on our air and are very proud of it.”

3. The Door Is Open for Diversity
With such a grab for diversity this season, CBS' only new freshman with a pair of minority leads is midseason comedy Rush Hour. And when asked point blank why they don't have any series with an exclusively black cast, a la Empire or Black-ish, Tassler said that they're still waiting. "It's always a goal of ours," she said. "There's diversity across the entire schedule. I think we're just waiting for that show to come in the door for us."

4. They're Saving Some of the Best for Last
"It's just a matter of shelf space." That was the response to one question about how they're explaining saving so many shows for later in the calendar — and if anyone was concerned that advertisers might think the network is less confident in the unscheduled series. Added Tessler, "The shows that we have coming on later in the season are strong and worthy of being on any fall schedule."

5. Supergirl and Gotham Can be Super in the Same Time Slot
CBS is scheduling one of its biggest swings Mondays at 8 p.m. this fall. Supergirl will slide into the slot in October after The Big Bang Theory, and new comedy Life in Pieces goes back to Thursdays at the conclusion of Thursday Night Football. CBS executives talked up the young-skewing potential of Supergirl and brushed off the notion that pitting it against Fox's Gotham — a Batman origins story — would bifurcate the available audience. "I think it's wrong to think that if there's another genre show in that time slot, that we can't succeed,” said Kahl.